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Dispatch from Gaza: Disaster zone

A thousand words cannot frame them, these scenes of a Gaza apocalypse. Walk its ruins with a pen, and you yearn for tools more mighty – to move tons from the memories beneath, to cast trauma to the sea.

But a writer writes; he cannot right wrongs. Each story attests to that. Today, as I climbed through the rubble of yet another erstwhile town, a group of men from the El Ejleh family called out to me. “We need help,” they said. When I demurred, as I so often must, they dialed down to this: “Tell the world, at least. Tell them what happened to us.”

El Ejleh family: The Ejleh family lived behind the Wafa Hospital in Gaza's Sha'af neighborhood. Here's all that's left of their home.

The Ejleh family lived behind the Wafa Hospital in Gaza’s Sha’af neighborhood. Here’s all that’s left of their home.

That much I can do. But is it enough?

In Arabic, there is a saying, a hadith of the Prophet Muhammad. Roughly, it says: if you spot a wrong, change it with your hands. If you can’t, then change it with your words. And if all else fails, well, change it in your heart.

And that, goes the saying, “is the weakest of faith.”

So the writer falls in the middle — not heroic, not hapless. But there are days when words simply fail. Today was one of them.

Today, I went to Sha’af, a community that sits just west of an Israeli tank unit — the same one, presumably, that flattened it to the ground. Six-story buildings stood my height. Corrugated tin hung mangled from phone cables. And everywhere the faces – anguished, ashen faces – looked for signs of what was.

Just then I found one — at the foot of an elevator shaft, a concrete hull angled against a wall. It was a teal wall, the color of something I had seen once. As I struggled to mine the memory, I found a paper beneath a rock, a half-shredded document that read “El Wafa.”

And there it was: the place where Dr. Basman Alashi, executive director of the El Wafa Medical Rehabilitation Hospital, had written about life in a hospital under siege. When I interviewed him at the beginning of this war – this war of one army – he told me about 14 elderly patients, “all dependent on round-the-clock professional care to survive.”

Yesterday, I went to Sha'af, a Palestinian neighborhood along Gaza's border with Israel. While walking through the ruins left by Israeli tanks, I realized that I was standing where the Wafa Hospital used to be. You can read more about the hospital and its struggle to protect its patients here.(photo: Samer Badawi)

Yesterday, I went to Sha’af, a Palestinian neighborhood along Gaza’s border with Israel. While walking through the ruins left by Israeli tanks, I realized that I was standing where the Wafa Hospital used to be. You can read more about the hospital and its struggle to protect its patients here. (photo: Samer Badawi)

“We stay together,” he said, “or we leave this world together.”

When the shelling began, they left – fleeing, under fire, to another hospital. I wonder if they have been back since. Those who had, on this first day of the ceasefire, remembered a place no one would have thought to bomb.

No one, that is, but the Israeli army.

Munzer El Ejleh, who lived behind the hospital, sat with his sons on a sofa in the sun. It was all they could salvage of their home. When I asked him what he thought of the destruction all around, he repeated a familiar mantra among Gazans these days. “God,” he said, “is sufficient for us.”

Related:
‘We stay together, or we leave this world together’
Refugees once again: Gazans who lost their home wonder what’s next
In Al Shifa, doctors can’t keep up with the wounded
Palestinians flock to hospital to wait out assault

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    COMMENTS

    1. Pedro X

      While spouting religious mumbo jumbo, Samer might want to tell the readers why when Hamas was spending billions of dollars on its military infrastructure, installing rocket launchers in civilian areas next to hospitals, UN Compounds and civilian homes and building tunnel entrances in mosques, medical clinics and peoples homes where where his hands or pen? How did he remain silent when he knew that Hamas was preparing for a war which would bring destruction death down on his neighbors in Gaza?

      Reply to Comment
      • Joshua

        “Religious mumbo jumbo” is precisely what lies at the heart of this conflict, Pedro X, and when the sky rains down with bullets and bombs, most humans look to God. Samer is not in Gaza to speak for Hamas–he is in Gaza to speak for Gazans. Your ugly assertion that he knew of the impending attacks and kept silent only reveals the kind of racism and ignorant attitudes that exacerbate this fight. Superbly written, Samer.

        Reply to Comment
      • Felix Reichert

        There’s onoly one logical fault in your argument:

        Hamas only returned firing rockets at Israel on July 8th.

        Israel already bombed Hamas infrastructure at least from June 14th onwards.

        Almost one month before Hamas retaliated did Israel break the truce it had brokered with Hamas in 2011.

        That’s the fact of the matter. Sorry to shatter your world view.

        Reply to Comment
        • Gustav

          “Israel provoked this war. Israel broke the truce with Hamas from June 14th (at least), when it first bombed Hamas infrastructure.”

          Really , Felix?

          Then read this article:

          http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Palestinian_rocket_attacks_on_Israel,_2014

          It shows that Hamas fired rockets on Israel before June 14, 2014, on: June 1 and June 11. And before that, several times in January, February, March, Apriil in 2014.

          Now tell us: were you lying? Or was it just ignorance on your part?

          Reply to Comment
          • Reza Lustig

            Then why wasn’t this “operation” carried out now, rather than then?

            Reply to Comment
          • Gustav

            “Then why wasn’t this “operation” carried out now, rather than then?”

            To you guys it does not matter when Israel responds. You always complain.

            If Israel would respond like it did, after the first rocket, you complain that Israel’s response is disproportionate and that it shows no restraint.

            If Israel responds after restraining itself before responding, you complain about that.

            You know what? We no longer care about what people like you think or say. We will do whatever is necessary.

            Reply to Comment
          • Reza Lustig

            That’s no answer. I repeat: if the rockets shot beforehand were such a big problem, why didn’t Israel see fit to carry out this little operation as an immediate response? Why wait? And why cite a completely different reason when they do finally carry it out?

            If you don’t care about what other people think of Israel’s policies, why bother defending them on this site, if you know you aren’t going to convince anyone of anything?

            Reply to Comment
          • Gustav

            “That’s no answer.”

            You are not the one to judge.

            “I repeat: if the rockets shot beforehand were such a big problem, why didn’t Israel see fit to carry out this little operation as an immediate response? Why wait?

            Israel showed restraint to show people like you how full of it you are.

            “And why cite a completely different reason when they do finally carry it out?”

            Different reason? I don’t know what the hell you are talking about. Do you know?

            “If you don’t care about what other people think of Israel’s policies, why bother defending them on this site, if you know you aren’t going to convince anyone of anything?”

            1. Because it annoys people like you.

            2. Because some decent people might read this site too and they need to hear what we say too, not just your lies and propaganda.

            Reply to Comment
    2. Kolumn8

      Hamas fired rockets at Israel from densely packed urban areas. Hamas built tunnels under people’s houses all the way across the border with Israel. Hamas built tunnels between houses so that it can target Israeli troops when they went in to destroy the tunnels. Hamas set up bunkers in the middle of cities. Hamas turned every third house into a military position. Hamas used schools, hospitals and houses to store weapons and rockets.

      If you want to know why destruction is so widespread, it is because Hamas turned these neighborhoods into a battlefield and the civilians into human shields for their military operations against Israel.

      And the saddest thing is that had Hamas accepted three weeks ago the same cease-fire they accepted yesterday, none of this destruction would have taken place.

      Reply to Comment
      • Felix Reichert

        And to you I will also say:

        Israel provoked this war. Israel broke the truce with Hamas from June 14th (at least), when it first bombed Hamas infrastructure.

        Only around one month later, July 8th, did Hamas start retaliating with rockets of their own.

        Israel provoked a reaction from hamas, knowing full well what would happen.

        And the Israeli elite didn’t care. I mean it’s only a few thousand filthy Palestinians dying, and only a few houndred thousand dirty Arab civilians displaced…

        Reply to Comment
        • Kolumn8

          On June 12th Hamas operatives kidnapped three Israeli teens and then killed them. So that pretty much undermines your chronology.

          But you don’t actually dispute the fact that the reason for the high Palestinian casualties is because Hamas uses civilians as human shields for its rockets and uses their homes as military locations for operations against Israel.

          Reply to Comment
          • Goldmarx

            “On June 12th Hamas operatives kidnapped three Israeli teens and then killed them.”

            Any good lawyer will tell you not to assume facts not already in evidence. We have only been told that there is a court document containing a confession from a Palestinian named Qawasmeh. Given the lies emanating from the current Israeli government, it would not at all be shocking if it turned out that the confession was extracted through force to cover Bibi’s ass.

            Instead of assuming anything, fair-minded people will simply observe as this plays out, as I told Pedro X on another thread.

            Reply to Comment
          • Kolumn8

            “Fair minded people” are still waiting to find out who shot Kennedy.

            What isn’t in dispute is that Hamas is an Islamist terrorist organization that very much approved the kidnapping and murder of the three Israeli teens, that it has on multiple occasions murdered Israeli civilians, that it built up an arsenal of thousands of rockets designed to kill Israeli civilians, or that it built dozens of tunnels designed to let terrorists walk into Israeli villages in order to kidnap and kill Israeli citizens.

            Another thing that is not in dispute is that Hamas leaders consistently and repeatedly state that their goal is the destruction of the State of Israel. Nor is it in dispute that Hamas considers it legitimate to target for murder Israeli women and children. Nor is it in dispute that Hamas (and Fatah) treat as heroes those that purposefully carry out the murder of Israeli women and children.

            Once all these things are laid out on a table, is there really a bad time to target such an organization for punishment? That is the part that annoys me. It isn’t the lawyerly game of suggesting that Israel must prove beyond a shadow of a reasonable doubt that Hamas is behind the kidnap and murders of the three Israeli teens as if this is some kind of TV police drama. That too is ridiculous. What annoys me is the idea that Hamas is some kind of legitimate organization that must be treated as if it is a legitimate state despite the fact that it acts and identifies as an Islamist terrorist organization. It would be like arguing about whether Al-Qaeda is a legitimate target for American drones because 9/11 was a decade ago and there isn’t conclusive proof that Al-Qaeda is planning or carrying out terrorist plots against the US at the moment.

            Reply to Comment
        • Gustav

          Typical. You just went and ignored my earlier post and you repeat your lie. So here it is again:

          “Israel provoked this war. Israel broke the truce with Hamas from June 14th (at least), when it first bombed Hamas infrastructure.”

          Really , Felix?

          Then read this article:

          http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Palestinian_rocket_attacks_on_Israel,_2014

          It shows that Hamas fired rockets on Israel before June 14, 2014, on: June 1 and June 11. And before that, several times in January, February, March, Apriil in 2014.

          Now tell us: were you lying? Or was it just ignorance on your part?

          Reply to Comment
    3. Goldmarx

      Is it true that Egypt successfully closed off all of the tunnels going from Gaza to Egypt without invading Gaza? And if so, why couldn’t Israel have done the same thing?

      The saddest thing is if Israel had accepted the unity government between the PA and Hamas, it would not have provoked the launching of projectiles from Gaza. It’s ridiculous to call them rockets, come to think of it, when they have no guidance systems.

      Reply to Comment
      • Avdim

        @GoldenAxe

        From wikipedia –

        “A rocket is a missile, spacecraft, aircraft or other vehicle that obtains thrust from a rocket engine. Rocket engine exhaust is formed entirely from propellants carried within the rocket before use”

        You can call them whatever you like, the rest of us prefer the known and well defined terms.

        Reply to Comment
        • Reza Lustig

          Can we call them “8th grade chemistry experiments?” a la Juan Cole? That accurately describes them.

          Reply to Comment
          • CigarButNoNice

            If Cole would just agree to have a daily barrage of those “8th grade chemistry experiments” near his residence for years on end without feeling the slightest troubled about them, then he could call them that. Let’s offer him the challenge, won’t we?

            Reply to Comment
          • Reza Lustig

            No biggie. Judging from the kill count this past year, the average Israeli is more likely to be hit by a car while crossing the street than by a Qassam rocket.

            And your hypothetical ignores the fact that they cant be aimed.

            Reply to Comment
          • CigarButNoNice

            Having to live under alarm sirens is a scenario you find convenient, Reza? As if I didn’t have enough reasons to hate you anti-Zionist scum with a burning passion already.

            Reply to Comment
          • Reza Lustig

            I’d take such an “inconvenience” any day, over waking up to see my neighbors blown to smithereens, not having electricity, or worrying myself sick about whether my kids will come back home the next time they go out for a football game or a classmate’s birthday party.

            I’d count my blessings, and ask that my leaders put protection of ALL innocents as first priority, rather than allow them to use such “inconveniences” to whip me into a fit of manic, paranoid, trigger-happy rage.

            Reply to Comment
          • CigarButNoNice

            “I’d take such an ‘inconvenience’ any day,…”

            Talk is cheap; armchair pontification, even cheaper.

            “…or worrying myself sick about whether my kids will come back home the next time they go out for a football game or a classmate’s birthday party.”

            Apparently you never heard of the suicide-murder attacks by your beloved Hamas in pre-1967 Israel, in buses, restaurants, hotels and other public places. I remember that period of fear well. All you Leftists do is condemn the security barrier that was set up against the perpetrators.

            Thanks for reminding me why I have a policy of not apologizing for anything the Jewish State does.

            Reply to Comment
          • Reza Lustig

            I don’t think I need to experience either situation to know which one I’d find more tolerable, thank you very much.

            And I was talking about the situation NOW, not “pre-1967.”

            Reply to Comment
          • CigarButNoNice

            “And I was talking about the situation NOW, not ‘pre-1967.’ ”

            I was talking about the pre-1967 *territories* (i.e. Israel before reacquiring Judea and Samaria, Gaza and the Golan Heights in 1967). The scenarios I mentioned took place all through the 1990s and well into the previous decade.

            “I don’t think I need to experience either situation to know which one I’d find more tolerable, thank you very much.”

            No matter, I’m not looking for sympathy. The confirmation you’ve given me that anti-Zionists view Israeli Jews as spoiled primadonnas rather than human beings under constant imperialist aggression is consolation enough. Like I said, you’ve only managed to bolster my already white-hot hatred for anti-Zionists. May you all go to hell, and soon.

            Reply to Comment
    4. Whiplash

      Goldmarx, The Egyptians are still finding and destroying tunnels. They have bulldozed a portion of Rafah to find the entrances to these tunnels so they can be destroyed. This prevents smuggling from the Egyptian side.

      The tunnels can not be only destroyed from the Israeli side. All Hamas has to do is to repair the tunnel and chose a new exit point. Tunnels also had to struck on the Gaza side because that is where many rockets were stored. Hamas built rocket launching sites next to mosques, homes and other civilian buildings in which they had tunnel entrances or exists for the deployment of forces and rockets. These places had to be attacked.

      Palestinians fired over 3000 rockets at Israeli civilian targets. Some had sophisticated guidance systems like Iranian Fajr rockets others did not. They all contained lethal doses of explosives to kill Israeli civilians and do great damage. An unguided missile kills just as well as a guided missile if not eliminated by the iron dome.

      Reply to Comment
      • Felix Reichert

        The Israeli security forces of course could just stick some sensor in the ground every couple hundred meters, which would probably cost them not even a hundredth of what Iron Dome cost.

        This way they could easily detect tunnel building ANYWHERE along the Israeli-Gaza border.

        They choose not to. They need Hamas, they need the threat to justify their occupation of the West Bank and the continuation of the Status Quo.

        Reply to Comment
        • Kiwi

          “They choose not to. They need Hamas, they need the threat to justify their occupation of the West Bank and the continuation of the Status Quo.”

          They need Hamas? What next? They need Nazi Germans like you too?

          But let’s say you are right. They need Hamas. I have the perfect solution: Hamas should disband itself and Israel will no longer have what it needs.

          You think that was a stupid suggestion? Well, I think that your suggestion that Israel needs Hamas was stupid too.

          Reply to Comment
    5. Goldmarx

      “The tunnels can not be only destroyed from the Israeli side. All Hamas has to do is to repair the tunnel and chose a new exit point.”

      Well, Hamas can do that on the Egyptian side as well. Again, why isn’t Egypt launching its own “Protective Edge”?

      “These places had to be attacked.”

      So would it be OK, by your logic, for Hamas to attack Tel Aviv’s main hospital since it is adjacent to the IDF Central Command? Human shields, much?

      Reply to Comment
      • JohnW

        “Well, Hamas can do that on the Egyptian side as well. Again, why isn’t Egypt launching its own “Protective Edge”?”

        Because Hamas has not threatened to destroy Egypt. Nor has it launched tens of thousands of rockets into Egypt in the last 15 years or so.

        “So would it be OK, by your logic, for Hamas to attack Tel Aviv’s main hospital since it is adjacent to the IDF Central Command? Human shields, much?”

        I am sure that by YOUR logic it would be ok. I am also sure that if Hamas could, it would. Oh but wait … that’s exactly what it has been doing for the last 15 years. Hamas has been rocketing Israeli civilians … Oops, don’t you feel foolish for asking?

        Reply to Comment
        • Goldmarx

          G: “Well, Hamas can do that on the Egyptian side as well. Again, why isn’t Egypt launching its own “Protective Edge”?”

          J: Because Hamas has not threatened to destroy Egypt. Nor has it launched tens of thousands of rockets into Egypt in the last 15 years or so.

          –> I was addressing Whiplash, not you, Oberstampfuhrer. His argument was Israel had to attack for technical reasons, because there was no other way to close the tunnels. But I pointed out that Egypt has been successful in closing the tunnels on its side of the border without going to war. Did you jump in because you are afraid Whiplash couldn’t refute my point?

          “Oops, don’t you feel foolish for asking?”

          –>Not at all. Your dodge and distraction of the point I was raising only confirms my point.

          Reply to Comment
          • JohnW

            Egypt can destroy the tunnels on it’s side?

            How about the thousands of rockets being launched on Egyptians, for the last 15 years by Hamas? Can Egypt stop those on it’s side too? No? Oops? Those rockets were not launched on Egyptians? They were launched on Israelis? Well then there you have it. An answer to your stupid question.

            Reply to Comment
    6. jpowell

      Today I was told in Hebron/Khalil the resistance is either with weapons or words, either way it will and has to continue. Keep writing.

      Reply to Comment
    7. Richard

      If the real Apocalypse kills only .001% of the population, that would be a milder apocalypse than I think anyone who’s ever used that word to refer to a future events has so far predicted.

      Reply to Comment
    8. Eliza

      Keep writing Samer. The people of Gaza deserve to have their story told; the story of every Palestinian child killed, every child injured needs to be told.

      Its important. Forget about the nasty comments often posted on this site and write for the Palestinians and for the international community.

      Reply to Comment
      • Kiwi

        Yes right Elizabeth. It is important to document every case so that Hamas’s leaders can be appropriately punished for inflicting such pain on both Israeli and Palestinian civilians.

        Reply to Comment
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